When Aaron Fuchs ’09 graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, he, like many Yalies, found himself in New York working in finance. He spent just two years with a hedge fund before returning to his native South Africa in 2013 to found an educational summer academy. Called iXperience, the academy gives courses in technology, finance and consulting and bills itself as “a life-changing career accelerator.”
iXperience hosts two programs: one geared toward South African college students and one for American college students. Fuchs said the program for South African students challenges the traditional South African education system. With universities currently emphasizing theoretical education styles, Fuchs said his program provides necessary practical education.
“One of the biggest problems we have in South Africa is the unemployment rate … [and] that the education system is kind of outdated and old-fashioned,” Fuchs said. South Africa’s official unemployment rate was 25 percent in 2014.
The international summer program, which began as a coding academy, now hosts six courses — two in coding and one each in data science, user experience design, finance and consulting. The program, which costs $8,500 for an eight-week session, according to the iXperience website, takes place in Cape Town and is currently geared toward students from the United States’ top 15 colleges and universities, Fuchs said.
Each course encompasses an intensive four-week instruction period — comparable to a condensed semester-long college course, Fuchs said -— followed by a four-week internship in the chosen field.
Students at Yale and other top institutions flock to consulting and finance; 16.6 percent of the Class of 2014 went into finance, and Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company were the three largest employers of 2014 graduates, according to the Office of Career Strategy’s First Destination Survey: Class of 2014.
But according to Fuchs, students are not being adequately prepared for careers in these fields. iXperience aims to provide its students with real-world skills for these professions and an idea of what people in those sectors do on a day-to-day basis, he added.
“The general trend is that these are the industries that most graduates are actually going to as a career, yet we find it really strange that they have absolutely no experience or education in any of these fields,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs mentioned that he felt underprepared for his career, and that career services channels can be difficult to navigate.
The Director of Education at iXperience, Rafi Khan ’15, was a computer science major, the director of HackYale and an Education Studies Scholar. Fuchs contacted him as a junior, and Khan decided iXperience was the right fit, he said. Like Fuchs, Khan said he felt a lack of support from Yale when choosing a career. He noted that while Ivy League schools and other top universities hail college as a time to intellectually explore, career education is an important missing facet.
“I think iXperience, in the end, fulfills a niche that is not currently fulfilled by top liberal arts universities around the world,” Khan said.
However, Khan said he holds a positive view of Yale’s ability to provide connections among alumni. It was through the Yale network that Khan could look for jobs internationally, he said.
Fuchs also noted that iXperience is about more than just career preparation — cultural learning is built into the philosophy at the program in Cape Town. Students are encouraged to explore the city, and participate in cultural excursions ranging from shark cage diving to surfing, he added.
Fuchs contrasted this idea of a holistic approach to education to the more one-dimensional style found on college campuses, and noted that cultural immersion was more possible when in a foreign country.
“One of the big parts of the program is the lifestyle that we create for the students,” Fuchs said. The program fosters an “inspirational” learning environment, the kind of environment a university might not always provide, Fuchs said. Further, iXperience fosters connections among students from many different universities, which Fuchs described as one of the program’s greatest benefits.
Mechanical engineering major Alex Tenn ’16 attended an iXperience coding course during the summer of 2014. After taking CPSC 112 at Yale, Tenn saw iXperience as an immersive introduction to a more practical form of coding, he said.
“It laid the foundation of confidence so that I can tackle any coding project that I want, now,” he added.
Total, iXperience accepted about 140 students last year, and Fuchs said he plans on growing the program to around 300 this year. The program is currently accepting applications for the summer of 2016.